Thursday, May 21, 2009

Mostly Museums - Jaen

I took the bus and spent a day in Jaen (Andalucia, Spain). My first stop was at the Cathedral. European Catholic churches make me uncomfortable. They rely on gilt and gore to awe and frighten their congregations. It obviously works for a lot of people, but I feel a greater sense of holiness in a plainer environment without all the decorations and all the images of Christ's suffering and the martyrs' bloody deaths.

As I walked up through the older part of town, I chanced to see a poster for an exhibit at the Escuela de Arte across the street. It was an exhibit of "abanicos." I wasn't sure what that was, but it turned out to be a display by graduates from an art class (Escuela de Arte de Cadiz) specializing in fans. Their goal is to build on the history and tradition of the fan in Spain and to move it forward into the modern era. The fans on display were delightful, and I really enjoyed looking at them.

My next stop was the Palacio de Villardompardo, a beautiful old mansion containing the remains of the Arab Baths, the Museum of Traditional Arts and Customs, and the International Museum of Primitive Art. I had visited the Arab baths in Granada, but these were much larger and better preserved. Interesting how we've evolved from bathing as a social activity to something that is done extremely privately. I really enjoyed the Museum of Traditional Arts and Customs. There was a diverse collection ranging from farming equipment to home furnishings to clothes and toys. There was a gorgeous painted horse-drawn cart (tiny scenes on the side panels and brightly-coloured wheels) for riding to the fair. The most surprising children's toy was a toy altar so that they could play at serving mass or being an angel. There is also a large collection of primarily Spanish primitive art, but by then my legs were tired and I wanted to sit down and have some lunch.
Finding somewhere to have lunch is always tricky in a new town. The first trick is finding some; the next trick is finding one you'll like. I tend to go for restaurants with outdoor tables as I love to be out of doors - and the cigarette smoke is less bothersome. I finally stumbled on a small, plain cafeteria with a great location. The Kiosco el Parque is located in the Parque de la Victoria, across from the Monumento a las Batallas. The food is fairly basic, but it's a pretty location, and there is lots of local activity to watch. In addition, it's only one block from the Provincial Museum.

The Provincial Museum was great because it was air conditioned, and it had toilet paper (somewhat rare in Spain from my experience). It was a very hot day (33 degrees) so I appreciated the coolness. The building combines an archeology museum and a fine arts museum. I've now been to 4 archeology museums, which is rather a lot in just a couple of weeks. But I really enjoy looking at the Roman mosaics as well as the small items that people use on a daily basis - jewellery (interesting how quickly we turn to decorating ourselves and our belongings) and household pots and candleholders. I can imagine using these things. The Fine Arts collection was very eclectic with only one or two paintings by a great number of regional artists. I enjoyed the special exhibit of prints by David Roberts of the Holy Land. Nowadays we buy guide books and take trips. In the 1800s, travel was more difficult so they travelled vicariously by purchasing books of prints showing other people's travels. Roberts' work is very detailled, and he had a talent for portraying both architecture and people.

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